As Thanksgiving is a big family event and I had no family within several thousand miles I decided to go away for the weekend so that I didn’t got bored. I hired a car and on the Wednesday evening drove up into Iowa and spent the night in the Des Moines, Iowa. There was nothing particular there that I wanted to see but it was a four hour drive from Lawrence and I didn’t fancy driving any further. As I was there it would’ve been rude not at least go and look at the state capital so the next morning I went and had a quick look at it before tarting my drive further west to the Mississippi which was my real aim. Reasonably grand capitol building but nothing too exciting.
I then drove over to the town of Dubuque on the Mississippi river in the west of the state getting lunch on the way. Although deserted because of the holiday it still seemed like a nice town. The two most interesting bits were a weird clock tower in the middle of the main street and a tall tower where they used to make shot by dropping molten metal from the top and letting gravity formed it into a sphere by the time it reached the bottom. I also took a walk along the side of the Mississippi which was a nice way to stretch the legs if a little chilly.
My plan was then to drive down to the Quad Cities area, where I would spend the night, trying to stick as close to the river as I could and stopping of anywhere of interest. Turns out to be quite hard to stick close to the river along that stretch and the one park I stopped at, just outside Dubuque, had a closed road which meant I couldn’t get close to the river. Eventually as it was just starting to get dark I got close to the river again and found a state park. This was on the opposite side of the road to the river so I wondered what I would find but the road led up to some cliffs that gave pretty good views of the river and the nearby town and all in all it was really quite scenic. I could also see a large collection of barges being pushed along the river and about to go into a lock and even from a distance the sight of all the barges together was impressive. I could also see where the railway went straight down the middle of one of the streets in the town without any fencing or anything. I doubt health and safety would allow that in the UK and it must be a nightmare for parents!
Leaving the park as it was getting dark I got to my hotel and then went to get dinner at one of the chains I knew were open on Thanksgiving. I got back to the hotel where, with it still being quite early, I tried to do some laps in their extremely small pool.
My plan for Friday was much the same as the last part of the day before – drive along by the river and stop off anywhere that looked interesting before eventually getting to St Louis. Once again it turned out there wasn’t off too much interest to see. I stopped off at port Louisa wildlife refuge and went for a short walk and although it was again nice to stretch my legs it wasn’t that exciting – you couldn’t even see the river. By the afternoon I was in Missouri and I stopped off at Wakonda State Park and went for a walk there. The park mainly consisted of Lakes and although quite nice, was again nothing exciting, so I headed on to St Louis. All in all I was a little disappointed with my trip down the Mississippi as I didn’t see much of the river and it turned out to be mainly driving. Dubuque was nice and I’m glad I went and that random state park in Iowa was also worth seeing.
I wasn’t sure what I’d make of St. Louis as I’m definitely more of an outdoors person but it was a big famous city I hadn’t been to before and had been on my list of places to see since my long holiday I took with my US placement when I worked for the MoD in 2002. On that occasion I had planned on seeing the city but as it wasn’t on the right train line I couldn’t work out a sensible way of getting there despite getting quite close. I started the Saturday by going to the Cahokia Mounds, a groups of mounds built by native Americans around a thousand years ago. The suburbs of St Louis have now grown out this far so it was a little weird walking around the mounds in the middle of a suburb. They were impressive sized mounds but otherwise quite similar to other such mounds I’d seen before.
I then moved into St. Louis itself by getting on the Metro from near my hotel. I went and saw Forest Park which had hosted the 1904 World’s fair and which now had a number of museums in it. I had a quick look round the park seeing the Art Museum building which is a nice building with a nice lake and fountain in front of it – shame about the crane at one end of the building. Not being into art I didn’t visit the museum but instead went to the Missouri History Museum and spent a couple of hours there. The exhibits that were there were good and rather interesting but I had expected the museum to be a bit bigger. I then went back towards the core of St. Louis, saw an old courthouse nicely lit up up before getting some dinner in the Laclede’s Landing area which is a small area of bars and restaurants. Looks like it would be a good place to visit with friends of an evening but it was quite quiet while I was there and as I was by myself I got food and headed back to my hotel.
The next day I had tickets to go up the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial arch – a big arch which is really noticeable which is really noticeable on the city skyline. To get up to the top you go up in really tiny lift cars in which there is, just about, enough space for five people to sit down – you wouldn’t want to be claustrophobic especially if they broke down. The views from the top, through the small windows, were pretty cool.
I then went and had a look at the old court house which had been nicely lit up the night before. They were having an exhibition of some cool paintings of all the national parks and then were some OK exhibits on St Louis’s history but it did seem to be rather living on it’s historical connections – it had been the sight of the beginning of the important Dred Scott case about slavery which went all the way to the Supreme Court.
I next had a ticket for a boat tour on the river. Turns out that due to the rather damp weather I was the only person who brought a ticket and so they cancelled it. Given the weather they also weren’t too hopeful for their other cruise that day so I shelved the idea and decided to hit the road back home. On the way I stopped of at another state park which followed an old railway line for miles and miles. I walked along the line for a bit and noted the climbing potential of the cliffs but climbing was either banned or rubbish as it was all overgrown.
Photos from the trip are here.